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Leadership from the plains

As the 48th most populous state in the Union, North Dakota is an area many national politicians refer to as fly-over country, so its a big deal when a North Dakota lawmaker is elected by colleagues to serve in a national leadership role.

District 13 Rep. Kim Koppelman (R-West Fargo) assumed the role of vice president in the Council of State Governments, an organization that includes all 50 states in the Union, several Canadian provinces and also the U.S. territories, at CSGs annual meeting two weeks ago in Wilmington, Del.

Koppelman said his serving in this function, the first stepping stone in a three-year progression which will have him chairing the organization in 2007-2008, not only puts North Dakota on the map with a lot of people, but also allows him to export common sense ideas and good government solutions from North Dakota to other states.

I think it is good for the state because [my leadership] demonstrates who and what we are. It gives us some notoriety and raises peoples awareness of us, Koppelman said.

All legislators in every state are members of CSG. Koppelman serves on CSGs Suggested State Legislation Committee, which selects legislation from all 50 states to be published in the organizations book of Suggested State Legislation. The book is issued to and used as a resource by legislators.

CSG has a multi-branch composition. Its chairman is always a legislator, and its president is always a governor. In North Dakotas history, only two of the states legislators have served in CSGs top role. That was two decades ago when former Rep. Roy Hausauer (R-Wahpeton) served in 1984-85. Former Sen. Edwin Becker (R-Willow City) led the organization in 1969 to 70.

Koppelman said in his leadership role, he hopes to take advantage of CSGs multi-branch makeup to expand the effectiveness and efficiency of state governments across the U.S., particularly in the area of communication between the legislative, executive and judicial branches.

He pointed to recent rifts between the judicial and the legislative branches as proof that there needs to be clearer communication and better cooperation between all branches of government.

I said to the CSG, if anybody is going to be able to pull this off, youre the ones who can do it, Koppelman said. Its important to know that legislators do not sit down for lunch with judges every day.

While tensions are built into our constitutional system, with the separation of powers, current pressures have gone far beyond what was intended, he said. They gave Koppelman the idea to team up with Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice Joseph Lambert to spearhead an effort that would encourage a clearer understanding among the lawmakers and interpreters of the laws as to the original intent of legislation.

We need to have more give-and-take between the branches. Legislators have been complaining that some judges are legislating from the bench. Judges have complained that some legislators are stepping beyond their bounds by passing laws that require mandatory sentencing, Koppelman said.

He said the idea has been well received.

I see this blossoming into something that becomes part of CSGs permanent structure, as an ongoing committee or task force, for example. Hopefully, we can do this to promote good government that operates in the way the founders intended it to, he said.

The CSG encompasses members of all three branches of governmentlegislative, executive and judicialin all 50 states. The U.S. territories and several Canadian provinces are also associate members. States pay dues to be a part of the organization.

CSG is composed of regional branchesthe West, East, South and Midwest. In 2001 Fargo hosted the Midwestern CSG.

National leadership rotates among all four regions of the country. Koppelman was elected to serve as Vice President this summer by leaders from the 11 Midwestern states and three Canadian provinces to be the regions standard-bearer in the organizations national office. He succeeds Delaware Rep. Roger Roy as vice chairman. Next year he will serve as chairman-elect.